cover image People on Sunday

People on Sunday

Geoffrey G. O’Brien. Wave (Consortium, dist.), , $18 ISBN 978-1-933517-72-8

O’Brien’s fourth collection draws its title from the 1930 German silent film on the interwar period. O’Brien’s poems, which vacillate between atmospheric dreaminess and cognitive clarity to great effect, draw from the news, history, and daily urban life. One timely poem, “Thanatopsis” (Greek: a meditation on death), refers, almost prophetically, to the Trayvon Martin case: “Keep us from having a stand your ground/ law to address weeks of solid rain/ …. And a public square, the path between them/ Traced by daylight saving time/ Over the freedom of George Zimmerman.” The speaker’s stream-of-consciousness suggests the mind’s slow circling landing on insights through a form of synesthesia: “The sound was like picking sad battles,/ The red that white imagines yellow is.” At his best, O’Brien balances elliptical philosophical queries with lyricism: “The peaceful transfer of/ Power from the past to the future// Sees the end of a present, escorted/ By sand”; and elsewhere, “I had three tasks: finish, cease, and stop./ I had the single method: wait like form/ On the inside of the outside, made/ Of being made.” Not all of these poems are so accessible, and their titles frequently draw from Latin and Greek, suggesting a love of rarified knowledge. Still, this proves to be an intriguing, thoughtful, and ambitiously layered collection, drawing from the past to hold a mirror to the present. (Sept.)